Understanding student pathways in context-rich problems

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Antonenko, Pavlo
Niederhauser, Dale
Jackman, John
Kumsaikaew, Piyamart
Marathe, Rahul
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Ogilvie, Craig
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Ryan, Sarah
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Physics and Astronomy
Physics and astronomy are basic natural sciences which attempt to describe and provide an understanding of both our world and our universe. Physics serves as the underpinning of many different disciplines including the other natural sciences and technological areas.
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Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering
The Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering teaches the design, analysis, and improvement of the systems and processes in manufacturing, consulting, and service industries by application of the principles of engineering. The Department of General Engineering was formed in 1929. In 1956 its name changed to Department of Industrial Engineering. In 1989 its name changed to the Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering.
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This paper describes the ways that students’ problem-solving behaviors evolve when solving multi-faceted, context-rich problems within a web-based learning environment. During the semester, groups of two or three students worked on five physics problems that required drawing on more than one concept and, hence, could not be readily solved with simple “plug-and-chug” strategies. The problems were presented to students in a data-rich, online problem-based learning environment that tracked which information items were selected by students as they attempted to solve the problem. The students also completed a variety of tasks, like entering an initial qualitative analysis of the problem into an online form. Students were not constrained to complete these tasks in any specific order. As they gained more experience in solving context-rich physics problems, student groups showed some progression towards expert-like behavior as they completed qualitative analysis earlier and were more selective in their perusal of informational resources. However, there was room for more improvement as approximately half of the groups still completed the qualitative analysis task towards the end of the problem-solving process rather than at the beginning of the task when it would have been most useful to their work.


This is a post-peer-review, pre-copyedit version of an article published in Education and Information Technologies. The final authenticated version is available online at DOI: 10.1007/s10639-010-9132-x. Posted with permission.

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Fri Jan 01 00:00:00 UTC 2010